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How to Solve a Civil War
Alex Steffen, 27 Dec 03

Civil wars are notoriously hard to being to a negotiated peace. In general, the sides fight until one or both are exhausted, in the process wreaking havoc on the lives of that nation's people. Therefore, a way of more speedily bringing both sides to a agreement would be a powerful tool for improving the world.

The Santa Fe Institute's Elizabeth Wood may be on the trail of just such a tool for ending civil wars. Wood's method involves using the branch of mathematics known as game theory to find the settlement most acceptible to both sides:

"[A] settlement will be stronger and more likely to last if it finds the ideal way to apportion the stakes. For example, if two warring factions each want control of some part of a disputed region, negotiators need to divide the territory in a way that comes closest to satisfying them both.

"This doesn't guarantee that neither party will fight on in the hope of gaining more. But it may lead them to decide that further fighting will not substantially improve the eventual outcome."

Her work is still theoretical, but it has serious real world implications. And while models and figures on their own will probably never convince folks to stop murdering each other, being able to conretely show warring parties why peace is in their best interest can only help the work of peace negotiators and peacekeepers.
(from Howard)

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This would be more useful before a war begins, within diplomacy. Once either side is committed, and more than likely both will be, there will be a lot of work trying to be sensible between warring factions.

Either that, or the warring factions have to be tired of fighting.

And then, with the Civil War example, I am left to wonder how such a theory would stack up in the Civil War of the United States. Would only some people of African descent be free?

War starts where diplomacy ends... War ends when either objectives have been met, or resources run out, or interest in War wanes, or interest in Peace increases.

When people want blood, they usually get it.

Posted by: Taran on 27 Dec 03

she's been "featured" at the bottom of the santa fe inst's homepage for awhile :D [ , , ]

and leslie king wrote an article about her work for their annual nee quarterly "bulletin:"

the sticking point for "robust settlements" she observes are often "the divisibility of stakes." if it's winner-take-all spoils, then the "rational" implied by "robust" -- expected payoffs vis-a-vis the peace dividend -- usually goes up in smoke. unfortunately, as amy chua notes [ ]:

"Ethnic identity is not a static, scientifically determinable status but shifting and highly malleable... Ethnic identity is rarely constructed out of thin air. Subjective perceptions of identity often depend on more objective traits assigned to individuals based on physical features, language differences, or ancestry. If you tell black and white Zimbabweans that 'ethnicity is a social construct' you will not be taken seriously. Moreover, there is zero intermarriage between blacks and whites in Zimbabwe, just as there is almost no intermarriage between Chinese and Malays or Arabs and Israelis. Ethnicity can be both palpably real and an artefact of the imagination rooted in the recesses of history - fluid and manipulable, yet real enough to kill for. This is what makes ethnic conflict so hard to understand and contain."

if the stakes are played out along the lines of identity politics, as it seems so many are, then problems may well be intractable, short of erasing or at least recontextualizing identity. ironically, there's a certain evolutionary "fitness" to such conflict, i.e. if they were easily resolvable then they would have been and, in that respect, the process could be considered "alive." enduring conflict and perpetual war are interesting precisely because of their seeming implacability. but, i might add, they also seem to me rather silly, hinging upon, as they do, the inability to grant, another their humanity, to see what it's like on the other side -- a denial of empathy that i think makes one less human... or perhaps more so? cheers!

Posted by: smerkin on 28 Dec 03



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